Responding to changing situations and needs with ToP Consensus Workshop – #FacWeek -4

This is the 2nd of a series of six weekly posts to mark International Facilitation Week 2017, starting just 4 weeks from today. Drafted as I enjoyed a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer, the posts share a series of examples of how I have applied, customised and adapted the ToP Consensus Workshop method in my practice over the past year. 

How will you celebrate and promote the power of facilitation this year? Please share online with the #FacWeek hashtag, or in a comment below…


Example 2 – ICUU, Mennorode

In July of last year I facilitated the ‘”Essex 2.0″ Large Group Process’ on the first day of the 5-day International Council Meeting & Conference of the International Council of Unitarians & Universalists (ICUU) in Mennorode, the Netherlands. This was the culmination of a 9-month strategic planning process, involving also a series of online sessions and a Participatory Strategic Planning retreat in Boston in the spring with a focus group of around 25. The Focus Question for planning process as a whole was: ‘21 years since its founding [at Essex Massachusetts], how does ICUU need to change or stay the same to respond effectively to the global Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist community of the century ahead?‘.

The original design had envisaged that we would use a large group process at the summer Council Meeting to involve the 140 or so delegates, of around 40 national member churches and networks, to consult on a draft strategy developed by the spring focus group. In fact the focus group concluded that there was likely not sufficient clarity and consensus on ICUU’s role in the wider movement to gain broad consensus on a new strategy so soon. Instead it was agreed to use the summer council meeting to build consensus on the mission and purpose of the global body, in order to consult further on strategy after that.

In the morning of the first day we used a series of ‘World Café’ style table conversations in changing small groups to discern learnings and implications from the strategy development process, following a few short presentations from those involved and drawing on documentation. In the afternoon we used a ‘super-sized’ Consensus Workshop process to answer the Focus Question ‘“What are key elements of the mission and purpose of ‘ICUU 2.0’, for the next 20 years?”

Participants sat at 16 tables of 8 by country and continent, in order to amplify the voices of regions less represented or otherwise less heard relative to others. Whole A4 sheets were used for sharing ideas on the sticky wall instead of half-sheets, for improved readability for the large group, and ideas were clustered in columns to make best use of sticky wall space with the large sheets. In order to keep the process fast-paced and engaging, all 16 table hosts were invited to come to the front at once and take it in turns to read their table’s ideas, and post them directly in the relevant cluster as they did so. Having a queue of table hosts waiting to share ideas helped to ensure that each was brief and focused. Participants then self-selected into 13 table groups to name the 13 clusters that emerged.

It was clear that meaningful consensus would not be possible with such a large group in just an afternoon, so the workshop was framed as consultative and the cluster titles were accepted as drafted unless any minor revisions could be agreed quickly in the plenary. At the end of the day volunteers were invited to join a working group to discern and articulate the emerging consensus concisely in a revised mission statement for approval by vote of the formal Council Meeting at the end of the week.  A team of half a dozen or so met that evening to do that, mostly members of the ICUU Executive Committee. Some of the 13 named elements they found to represent values and principles that were already agreed and articulated elsewhere, or elements of vision, strategy or implementation that could better contribute to those later stages of the planning process. Remaining elements were distilled into a succinct new mission statement to be submitted to the vote of the Council.

The final statement was strengthened further by some minor revisions suggested during the formal Council Meeting. Once approved, the new mission statement was verbally translated as it was read aloud in all of the 25 or so languages spoken by those present, to symbolise global consensus and commitment: “The Mission of the ICUU is to empower existing and emerging member groups to sustain and grow our global faith community”.

Read on for example 3…


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

Facilitating change in complexity – the Oxfam Lebanon ‘One Country Strategy’ process

Beirut seafront 525x296“What would it take for multiple and diverse stakeholders to align behind a complex and demanding change process, in a complex and demanding environment?”  This was the question that intrigued me as I became engaged with the Oxfam Lebanon ‘One Country Strategy’ process.

It was in September 2014 that I was approached to help with the design and facilitation of a ‘One Country Strategy’ (OCS) process for Oxfam in Lebanon.

PSP case study thumbnailFran Beytrison had recently taken up the role of Oxfam GB Country Director for Lebanon, after moving from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in Geneva where she had participated in a strategic planning process that I had facilitated the previous year – see Transformational Strategy: from trepidation to ‘unlocked’.

A complex and demanding context

Oxfam is one of the world’s largest and best-known international NGOs, founded in 1942 in Oxford in the UK.  Today it comprises 17 national Oxfam Affiliates that are federated as Oxfam International and work in over 90 countries worldwide. It’s work includes emergency humanitarian relief, long-term development programmes and policy research and advocacy. It describes the scope of its work in terms of six key issues: active citizenship, gender justice, inequality and essential services, natural resources, saving lives and sustainable food.

Oxfam GB had launched a major emergency response to the Syria crisis in Lebanon in January 2013. Oxfam Novib and Oxfam Italia had been operating long term development programmes in Lebanon for some years before that. Oxfam GB’s Middle East regional Gender Justice programme was also located in Beirut, and Oxfam France and Oxfam Quebec were also involved in work in Lebanon.

By the autumn of 2014 it had become clear that an emergency humanitarian response could no longer be regarded as an adequate response to the ongoing and increasing effects of the Syria crisis in Lebanon. By then already over a million Syrian refugees were living among a pre-crisis population of around 4 million in Lebanon.  Also in 2014 Oxfam International had launched a major organisational change process to achieve a new ‘2020 Vision’. This required a single ‘One Country Strategy’ to bring together the work of all Oxfam Affiliates in each country, as a first step toward to eventual merger as, for example, Oxfam Lebanon.

To plan and implement such a complex and demanding change process successfully, in the context of complex and demanding work in a complex and demanding environment, it was felt essential to effectively engage with all 150 or so in-country staff and other key stakeholders through a robust and professionally facilitated process.

The aims and scope of work

The Terms of Reference agreed for my role in October described the aims of the process to develop a One Country Strategy for Oxfam in Lebanon as threefold:

  • to bring the three Oxfam affiliates operational in Lebanon and the Lebanon components of the Oxfam GB regional Gender Justice programmes together behind a single vision and shared operational plan, as a basis for moving to a country programme structure in line with the Oxfam 2020 Vision, while enabling other interested affiliates to engage as well
  • to clearly detail a gender-mainstreamed One Programme approach (humanitarian, development and policy) as a means of improving programme quality and building a more integrated response, fully leveraging existing expertise across all relevant affiliates
  • to position Oxfam as a leader in the increasingly consensual debate around a ‘Lebanese response’, as opposed to a ‘Syria response in Lebanon, through clear and evidence-based programmatic and policy shifts including strong sectoral leadership in key areas.

The process was therefore to guide both ‘technical visioning’ of Oxfam’s added value and role in Lebanon and organisational change to support implementation in the immediate and in the longer-term. It was to demonstrate a systematic, inclusive and participatory approach to strategic and operational planning and collaborative working, and so build shared commitment, confidence and trust for a new way forward together.

It was agreed to include also work with key actors within the country programme to develop skills for additional facilitation across various departments and sectors, particularly with a view to supporting the development of technical sectoral and departmental action plans in line with the broader Oxfam Country Strategy.

The contract allowed for up to 50 days’ work over six months from November to April, structured in four phases and including four trips to Lebanon. In the event my role required just 40 days’ work including three trips in November, December & January.

How the process unfolded

Phase 1 was conceived as a Preparation & Design phase. The aims were to develop a clear and agreed plan and budget for the process as a whole, and to develop shared clarity, confidence and commitment among staff and any other key stakeholders to the project and its 6-month timeframe.

A one-week trip in November allowed for a series of in-country consultation and process design meetings with large and small groups of staff of the various Oxfam affiliates in Lebanon, in Beirut and two field offices.

OCS Orientation day - outlineThe week included a one day OCS Orientation day for a cross-section of around 45 staff.  The World Cafe method was demonstrated and applied to share questions, concerns and possibilities for the OCS process. The ToP Focused Conversation method was demonstrated and applied to introduce my own role as facilitator of the OCS process. The ToP Consensus Workshop method was demonstrated and applied to inform the design and delivery of the OCS process by agreeing “What do we need to take into account to ensure the success of this OCS process?”.

The IDMC case study was used to outline the ToP Particpatory Strategic Planning process that would provide a framework for the OCS process as a whole. A project steering committee of 6-8 staff was established, to act as a soundboard and guide to the design process and oversee subsequent implementation.

Additional remote consultation was conducted with stakeholders based outside Lebanon. All the questions, concerns and aspirations raised during this first phase were documented and reviewed with the steering committee, and helped to informed the design and delivery of the remaining phases.

ToP Participatory Strategic PlanningPhase 2 was conceived as the Launch phase. The ‘rational’ aim was to develop a clear and agreed strategic framework as a basis for the single country strategy. This was to include an analysis of the changing strategic context; Practical Vision, Underlying Contradictions and Strategic Directions of the ToP Participatory Strategic Planning process; and a 3-month action plan for completion of the strategy.  The ‘experiential’ aim was again to develop shared clarity, confidence and commitment among staff and any other key stakeholders, this time to the emerging strategy and the plan for its completion.

By this stage the steering group had clarified the ‘Focus Question’ for the overall strategic planning process as: “What can we do over the next 5 years as one Oxfam in Lebanon working with others to address suffering and inequality in Lebanon?”

A 10-day trip in December allowed for the preparation and facilitation of a 4-day OCS Launch Week event, involving a series of sessions with different sub-groups.

OCS Launch week - outlineThe morning of Tuesday’s ‘Consultation Day’ involved key staff and external stakeholders invited for their knowledge and experience of Oxfam Lebanon’s changing strategic context.  The ToP ‘Wave’ exercise was used to chart and analyse trends, ‘on the horizon, emerging, peaking and dying’, to inform the subsequent strategic planning process.

The afternoon of the Consultation day involved around 150 staff of the various Oxfam affiliates in Lebanon plus key regional staff and local partners. The World Cafe method was used to enable this larger group (in 15 tables of 10, each including a team of 3 conversation hosts) to deliberate and to share responses to the three ‘focus questions’ that would guide the consensus building and strategy building for the remainder of the week:

  1. OCS Consultation day - world cafe table instructionsPractical Vision: “What would we like to see in place in 5 years’ time, as a result of the work of Oxfam in Lebanon?”  (indicators of external impact and internal effectiveness)
  2. Current reality: “What in our current reality is blocking us from realising our Vision?” (both internal & external to Oxfam Lebanon)  “What strengths do we have to address these obstacles?”
  3. Strategic Directions: “What practical projects or initiatives over the next 5 years could address these obstacles and help to realise our Vision?”

The remaining three days involved a cross-section of around 45 staff, each of whom had hosted one of the three World Cafe conversations at the 15 tables of 10 on Tuesday.  Each day involved an extended and adapted ToP Consensus Workshop process. First in groups of six, pairs of table host teams reviewed and clustered the ideas that they had harvested from their World Cafe table conversations on the question for that day – Practical Vision, Current Reality or Strategic Directions. Second, each Oxfam affiliate, field office, department and programme team met separately to add any further ideas from their own distinct perspective that they felt may not yet have been adequately reflected in the ideas shared.  Third, the whole group of 45 worked together for most of the afternoon to weave all the ideas generated into clusters, and to name the emerging consensus.  Finally, at the end of the week, outline action plans were agreed by work team for communicating the outcomes to those not present, and engaging with them over the coming weeks and months in finalising the framework and planning for implementation.

Strategic deployment of breaks and energisers helped to just about sustain the group’s energy throughout the week – to deal with large volumes of complex data, and to build consensus on often contentious issues among a group that was itself in many ways reflective of the diversity of perspectives and interests at play in Oxfam’s humanitarian, development and advocacy work in Lebanon.

A brief review of Oxfam International’s global change goals just before the naming of Strategic Directions enabled the group to align their names with Oxfam’s global strategy without having been overly constrained by them in their own visioning or in their analysis and response to their own local and regional realities. The outcome was four Strategic Directions, each articulated by a number of distinct ‘strategic intents’, designed to collectively address the Underlying Contradictions to the Practical Vision:

  • Designing and implementing integrated & effective, rights-based humanitarian & development programmes
  • Working with others to achieve high quality programmes
  • Investing in staff
  • Influencing to create change from the local to the global.

Doubtless the steering committee or Fran alone might have developed a very similar framework without such an elaborate and inclusive engagement process, but of course the experiential aims of shared clarity, confidence and commitment  were central and critical to the OCS process. Feedback indicated that the group had indeed found the week long and tiring, and in some cases it was felt that key issues or perspectives had not been adequately addressed or not in proper proportion. Nevertheless it was clear that the visual and participatory approach had been appreciated, and the open and frank discussions, diversity in participation and perspectives, and the clarity and consensus achieved. Fionna Smyth, then Oxfam GB Regional Campaigns and Policy Manager for the Middle East, Eastern Europe and CIS, commented recently on LinkedIn:

“I was at this particular meeting and it really was a phenomenal experience. It developed a clear vision, and was inclusive of many diverse voices. I loved Martin’s approach.”

By the end of the week, it was high time to enjoy the staff Christmas party! Having documented each workshop on the day, in preparation for the next day’s workshop, it was then a simple matter to compile a first draft OCS strategic framework document for circulation and feedback between December and January.

Phase 3 was originally conceived to include the resolution of any key issues in finalising the strategy document for approval in April, and development of clear and agreed (and comprehensive) operational plans for implementation of the first year of the new strategy. The ‘experiential’ aim again was to promote shared clarity, confidence and commitment among staff and other key stakeholders to the emerging strategy, and also now to plans for its completion and implementation.

It was agreed with the steering group after the Launch Week, however, that to continue such a comprehensive approach with such broad engagement could be asking too much of the staff in the midst of the many other demands on their time and energy.  Moreover, on reflection, it was felt that some areas of programming and organisational change could benefit more than others of facilitation support to enable effective engagement and an appropriate and successful implementation planning process.

For these reasons it was agreed switch from a comprehensive to a targeted approach to facilitation support in the implementation planning. Instead of working again with a cross-section of the whole staff on planning the whole of the implementation together, I would work with key stakeholders in three particular programme areas to apply the new strategic framework to tailored planning implementation in those particular areas.  Also I would offer ToP Group Facilitation Methods training to a cadre of 30 staff and partners from across the work teams and affiliates. These two elements became the twin focus of a two-week trip to Beirut in January.

Phase 4 had been conceived to allow for a collective review of experience and learning from the project and first quarter implementation, and to agree clear 90-day workplans for the second quarter, with the experiential aim of consolidating pride in the strategy and support for the structural merger.  However we had already transitioned from a comprehensive and collective approach in phase 3, to an approach in which the (already somewhat restructured) work teams were able to integrate the agreed new strategic framework in their operational work planning and in their longer-term programme development work.  Much had changed meanwhile as well in the strategic context, not least in the the Syria crisis itself and in its unfolding impact in Lebanon.  For these various reasons a fourth trip was not felt necessary, and my own role in the OCS project was concluded.

As it turned out, I made another two trips to Beirut for another client in May and June of 2015, to design and facilitate a participatory strategic planning for the Safety & Security Committee for Lebanon of which Oxfam is a member.  It was a pleasure to be able to reconnect with some of the Oxfam team while I was there, and learn something of what had happened next in the OCS process.  That, however, is another story…


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

Register now for ToP facilitation training in Brussels in 2016.

Facilitation case study: Celebrating 20 years with the European Training Foundation in Turin – #ETF20

“How might you creatively engage a diverse, international group of around 120, both face-to-face and online, to reflect, learn and bond together in celebrating 20 years of collective achievement?”

This was the question facing Michael Ambjorn and I as we prepared to work with the European Training Foundation (ETF) in Turin earlier this month. Part of the answer lay in the ‘Wall of Wonder’ method of ICA’s Technology of Participation, captured by Michael in a timelapse (below – the #FacHistory hashtag at the end refers to another 20-year anniversary project currently underway and using the method, Celebrating the development of facilitation – world-wide and history long.)

#ETF20 #ToPfacilitation Wall of Wonder – next #FacHistory…

A post shared by Michael Ambjorn (@michaelambjorn) on

ETF is a decentralised agency of the European Union that supports transitional and developing countries “to harness the potential of their human capital through the reform of education, training and labour market systems”, within the context of the EU’s external relations policy.  Michael and I were engaged on behalf of AlignYourOrg to design and facilitate a one day celebration and team-building event for current and former staff, with an element of online digital engagement as well. We had some fun with that, as you can see here!

The ETF team had arranged for professors and students of Turin’s Albertina Academy of Fine Arts to lead creative arts workshops on the day, so we were to integrate that into the programme. A launch event in early April enabled us and the artists to meet many of the staff, and to begin to prepare together for the main event. Art teams were formed and team badges distributed, team ‘historians’ and ‘archaelogists’ were appointed to unearth and collect artefacts and mementoes to share, and the all-important #ETF20 hashtag was announced to curate online contributions.

The day itself was held at a fabulous venue, the former munitions factory Arsenale of Peace, which allowed us the use of multiple large indoor spaces and a beautiful sunny courtyard as well. In our opening session in the theatre space we presented the aims and agenda of the day, below (click the image to enlarge).

#ETF20 aims & agenda

We then moved to the courtyard for a ‘constellations’ energiser, captured by Michael in another timelapse. First participants formed ‘human’ maps’ depicting where they were born, and then the location of a memorable event with ETF. Then they lined up in order of day & month of birth, and then in order of their first involvement with ETF. This warmed people up literally, as well as in terms of sharing something of themselves and their stories of involvement with ETF. We then distributed playing cards in order of participants’ first involvement, to assign them to 12 groups of 10 (by card number, excluding aces) such that each group had an equal mix of ‘old-timers’ and ‘new comers’.

The ToP Wall of Wonder (or Historical Scan) method is a powerful tool to enable a group to share and learn from their varied perspectives of a journey through history, to review the past in order to prepare for the future. In the first stage of this Wall of Wonder session, the 12 groups were invited to brainstorm and share memorable events and milestones in the 20 years history of ETF from 1994 to 2014, and anticipate future events to 2020 and beyond as well. Events were brainstormed and stories were shared at the personal and world level, as well as at the level of ETF itself, and written on cards and plotted on a timeline on the ‘sticky wall‘ at the front of the room. Participants drew on their collected artefacts and mementoes for inspiration, and plotted photographs alongside their cards – including polaroids of each of them, taken by Michael on the day, and plotted to indicate their date of first involvement with ETF.  You can see all their movement in the timelapse above, as the timeline takes shape as the front of the room.

For the second stage of the session, we introduced an element of the World Cafe conversation method by inviting participants to move tables to form 12 new groups – this time according to the suit of the playing card they had each been given (3 groups for each of the four suits). In these new groups they shared some of the stories they had told and heard, and some more, and began to discern impacts between world, ETF and personal levels, and trends over time. After each stage of the session the 12 tables shared stories and insights with each other in plenary, culminating in suggestions for what name to give to their shared journey of 20+ years.

Below are just a few of the day’s tweets, to indicate how it was received, and a handsome recommendation received from Bent Sorensen, ETF Director of Communications, on LinkedIn. For more on the day as a whole (in tweets, images and more timelapses!) click on the final image below for #ETF20 on storify, and see the beautiful ETF video of the day.

If you find yourself struggling with a similar question, or if you could use any help with engaging and aligning your stakeholders, please contact me or Michael. Otherwise do anyway join us on twitter! @martingilbraith @michaelambjorn

Bent Sorensen ETF recommendation

#ETF20 storify

Four steps to a universal principle of facilitation and learning

This post was first written for and published by Kellow Learning: facilitating curious futures, as the first of a series of monthly guest posts from members of the global Kellow Learning Network.

At a recent monthly meet-up of the International Association of Facilitators in London, the question was posed “is there a single, universal principle of facilitation?”  More to the point of course, if there is – what is it!

It didn’t take me long to think and respond that, in my own facilitation at least, there is certainly something approaching that – a simple four-level model of human behaviour that is always in my mind as I design and facilitate any learning or collaborative process, and that is very often explicitly the basis of the design.  Anyone who has worked or taken training with me, or who is familiar with ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) approach, will know immediately what I am talking about.  It is the basis of the ToP Focused Conversation method, featured in the foundational ToP Group Facilitation Methods course, and it is affectionately known as ORID.

ORID is a model of how we respond as human beings to each other and our environment, and so too of how we learn, make decisions and act.  We perceive our external reality through our senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. These are our sources of data, the Objective level of the model.  We experience an internal response to such data initially, whether or not we are conscious of it.  These emotional, intuitive or gut reactions represent the Reflective level.  We discern meaning, ascribe value or significance, and learn at the Interpretive level.  When we come to some sort of conclusion, resolution or action that is at the Decisional level.   We go through this process countless times every day, often subconsciously.  For example, I hear my alarm clock through my sleep in the morning and roll over in bed to ignore it and continue sleeping; until I realise that it is getting late and I must get up, so I reach to switch on the light.

The ToP focused conversation method uses ORID as the basis for crafting a series of questions, by which to lead a group through a conversation which is focused, inclusive and productive.  The conversation is focused by crafting questions explicitly to help the group address a particular topic.  It follows the four levels of ORID in turn, taking the group on a journey together from surface to depth understanding, learning and resolution.  This is inclusive because different people (and people of different cultures) tend to be stronger and more comfortable at the different levels, so this enables everyone to participate where they are most comfortable and to contribute from their strengths.  This discipline of addressing each level together in turn also helps to test unspoken assumptions and overcome unconscious biases, and so helps to make the conversation more productive and conclusions more robust.

I find that this approach applies equally well to an informal small group conversation of a few minutes as it does to an elaborate large group process of days, weeks or months.  For example, I shared the design of a small group conversation from a training context in my recent blog post Three dimensions of the facilitator role – a focused conversation with video.  For an example from virtal faciliation see the twitter chat ‘Facilitating a Diverse Group of People‘, designed and led with @BenZiegler to celebrate International Facilitation Week last October. Another recent post ‘from the archive’ Staff away day with George House Trust illustrates ORID applied to the design of a whole day event – opening, overview, introductions and ground rules at the Objective level; ‘Wall of Wonder’ historical scan and story-telling at the Reflective level; World Café conversation at the Interpretive level, on “How we would like to be able to describe the culture of GHT”; and at the Decisional level, a team-building exercise, next steps, and closing reflection and evaluation.

Also I find that ORID applies well in conjunction with all sorts of other methods and tools.  The World Café method used in the George House Trust example is a case in point.  In a consultation event involving around 70 researchers helping to shape a future grant programme of a national Research Council, I used ORID to structure the four, progressive small-group table conversations of a World Café session – [O] highlights of our own research relevant to the research theme, [R] exciting emerging themes and questions, [I] opportunities for mutual support & collaboration, and [D] implications for researchers and for the Research Council. I plan to share more examples of ORID as a process design tool in future posts.

So, my universal principle is this – whatever the aims for your group process, there will be four key steps to achieving them.  Even if you have an apparently simple, single question to address, often four questions will work better than one.  As another example, if you want to ask “what shall we do about problem X?”, consider that your D-level question and ask first “what do we know about problem X?”, “what have been some of our challenges and breakthroughs in the past in relation to problem X?”, and “what have we learned from our experience about what might work and what doesn’t work in relation to problem X?”.

For a detailed explanation and practical guidance on the ToP Focused Conversation method, including many example conversation designs, see The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 ways to access group wisdom in the workplace and The Art of Focused Conversation for Schools: Over 100 Ways to Guide Clear Thinking and Promote Learning.

If you have found a universal principle of facilitation or learning yourself, please do share it!  I do not claim that mine is the single universal principle…

I am grateful to Sean Blair of ProMeet for posing the question at the IAF Facilitators & Friends London meet-up. Do join us (it’s free) on the 2nd Thursday of the month in central London, or join us online to schedule a meet-up where you are.


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

Facilitation case study: Staff Away Day with George House Trust

This ToP facilitation case study from the archive was first written for and published in 2009 by ICA:UK.

GHT Away day

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Context

George House Trust (GHT) is the HIV voluntary organisation for the North West of England.  It supports people living with and affected by HIV, and campaigns for the best quality of life for all people with HIV. ICA:UK was approached in July 2007 to design and facilitate a staff Away Day later that month.

GHT had undergone substantial change in the last couple of years – including significant expansion of the staff team and it’s service delivery, turnover of some senior staff, and subsequent restructuring of management posts.  A need had been felt for an externally facilitated process to allow staff to unpack and reflect together on this recent past, at what was felt to be a turning point before looking ahead by means of a fresh strategic planning process later in the year.

Around a dozen of the full staff team of 14 were to attend – including one very new, a few new within the past few years, and others with a long history of service.  As an organisation involved in hard campaigning on controversial issues in a sometimes highly politicised environment, the staff team comprised strong advocates and activists.

Aims

The day was designed and facilitated to provide a safe and supportive space to reflect together on the staff team’s shared recent past, and how it had affected them as individuals and the organisation as a whole. The aims of the day were articulated as follows:

  • to allow stresses, frustrations and challenges to be aired, balanced by successes and achievements as well;
  • to ‘draw a line’ under the past, and lay a firm foundation for forward strategic planning later in the year;
  • to have some fun, and rebuild stronger bonds and a sense of team spirit.

Process

The two key elements of the process design were the ToP (Technology of Participation) ‘Wall of Wonder’ (or ‘Historical Scan’) method, used in the morning to enable the group to reflect together on its recent past, and the World Café method, used in the afternoon to enable the group to articulate creatively “how it would like to be able to describe the culture of GHT”.

These were complemented by a number of shorter exercises and sessions to frame the day, set the tone and build the team.  These included sharing hopes and fears, expectations and ground rules; People Bingo, Two Truths and a Lie, and a balloon race; and a reflective self-assessment and sharing of strengths and weaknesses, and offers and wants of support. The timetable of the day was as follows:

9.30 Arrivals & coffee
10.00 Opening, housekeeping, aims & process
Expectations & ground rules
Energizer & introductions
‘Wall of Wonder’ small group work
Tea/coffee break
‘Wall of Wonder’ plenary
12.30 Lunch
1.15 ‘World Café’ conversation
Tea/coffee break
Team-building exercise
-4.00 Evaluation, next steps & close

Outputs & feedback

The documentation of the day included the aims and outline of the process, participants’ hopes & fears and ground rules, a full verbatim record of the Wall of Wonder and World Café sessions with photos of the sticky wall and decorated table cloths, and detailed feedback from participants’ evaluation forms.

Participants’ feedback included:

  • the timeline really enabled us to address many key issues for ourselves
  • lots of issues bubbling beneath the surface got a good airing
  • I feel a line has very, very clearly been drawn under some past events – I feel there will be more team cohesiveness and we will move on in strength
  • I feel we have a better understanding of each other & better ways of working

Michelle Reid, GHT Chief Executive, wrote in November 2008 of the impact of the day:

An effective team will always need to invest in “time out” in order to continue functioning well. The organisation had gone through significant change, and inevitably we needed to re-group and re-establish the frameworks that make the organisation such a formidable force to be reckoned with. ICA facilitated an excellent day which helped to enable us to go from strength to strength.

Celebrating diversity and facilitation in Europe

IAF Europe January 2013 newsletterThe latest newsletter of IAF Europe is a great read as usual – click on the cover image (right) to download it or view it online.

I particularly enjoyed Pamela Lupton-Bowers’ reflections on last October’s IAF Europe Conference in Geneva, Facilitating Across Cultures: Unleashing the Power of Diversity. It reminded me of the many rich insights at the conference into the role and impact of facilitation in international humanitarian work, not least from our keynote speakers from the World Economic Forum, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs. This is as diverse and complex a context as a facilitator is likely to meet! There’s also a great piece from Fran O’Hara on her use of graphic facilitation in conjunction with the World Cafe method at our closing plenary, and well-deserved acknowledgement and thanks to all who made the conference happen.

Gillian Martin Mehers, Kathy Jourdain and Simon Burall also contribute this issue, on ‘tinkering, making and mashing’, ‘Hosting Self’ and ‘Supporting public engagement’ respectively. And of course there is news of IAF, not least from Pamela as she retires as IAF Europe Director and from Martin Farrell as he succeeds her.

Well done and thank you to editor Rosemary Cairns, the IAF Europe team and to all involved, for helping to make Europe such a stimulating place to be a facilitator!